Peace-Keeping Operations and Future Trends

By Col. (ret.) Donald S Ethell, OMM, MSC, CD | 1993-09-01 12:00:00

CANADIAN citizens are proud but concerned for our 4000 troops on peacekeeping missions throughout the world. Canadian soldiers, who have been involved in peacekeeping since Lester Pearson's vision of 1956, perform exceptionally well and do not sacrifice their professionalism for something secondary to the mission.

The Canadian forces train for war and practice peace. One of my fellow officers was deployed with the European monitoring mission in the former Yugoslavia earlier last year. Following his extremely dangerous tour in southern Bosnia (including in one day, four cases of rifle, machine gun, artillery, and mortar fire directed toward his clearly-marked patrol vehicle), this experienced infantry major stated, "Thank God for our realistic training in Canada! I survived on instinct and training. Our training is valid!"

Peacekeeping Origins

Peacekeeping was an innovation; its had neither been provided for nor foreseen in the U.N. charter. In that document, the maintenance of peace and security was encouraged by negotiation, mediation, arbitration and judicial procedures under Chapter VI and by military means under Chapter VII. The subsequent development of peacekeeping was a response to historical necessity. Between 1945 and 1978, the U.N. set up 13 peacekeeping and observation missions, followed by a hiatus of ten years-and since then we have had a peacekeeping epidemic.

United Nations peacekeeping operations resembled a "Sheriff's Posse" mustered at the last minute to prevent the worst. They provided an alternative to active confrontation between the powers of East and West. In the past, these "posses" only provided the first of three phases (i.e. stabilization) in the aftermath of a conflict. Reconstruction and development were not considered. However, in 1990 the United Nations Transition Assistance Group (UNTAG) in Namibia became the first major U.N. operation in the new generation of peacekeeping operations after the cold war. The lessons from UNTAG are relevant to later missions that combine peace-keeping and peacemaking, stabilization and reconstruction.

Peacekeeping Trends

The term "Peacekeeping Operations" is' to an extent, a misnomer, as a formal peace agreement usually is not in effect. Rather, ceasefires, armistices and the like constitute the "peace." Depending on the response of parties to the "peace" agreement, peacekeeping operations range from peace enforcement through peacekeeping to peace-maintaining. These distinctions are quite real.

Peacekeeping operations rely not on force but moral persuasion and the cooperation of the host nations/main parties to prevent the resumption of hostilities (e.g.. Cyprus, The Golan, Iran/Iraq, Namibia, Central America, and to a certain extent the Balkans (i.e. Croatia and Serbian Yugoslavia). Usually in such cases a ceasefire was in place when the U.N. operations commenced, and two host nations (or major parties) controlled all forces within their respective borders. These experiences demonstrate the advantages of inheriting a ceasefire, being free of paramilitary force interference, and possessing the mandate of the host nations.

Peace-maintaining occurs only in the presence of a functioning peace, which it reinforces by independent verification and confidence-building between the parties of the treaty. An example is the 1978 peace treaty between Egypt and Israel, which is monitored by the 2700 member multinational force and observers (the MFO). As the name implies, peace-maintaining, or "Confidence Building Measures," requires the international peace-keepers to sustain a clear-cut peace agreement.

Peace-enforcement. Enforcement, or "restoring," implies the active use of force to create a degree of peace. Examples are Korea, the Congo, Somalia, and the U.N. interim force in southern Lebanon (UNIFIL), an area currently in the news. UNIFIL began operations in 1978 to: (I) supervise the withdrawal of the Israeli forces from southern Lebanon; (2) restore international peace south of the Litani River; and (3) assist the government of Lebanon to re-establish control over the area. The force came into being without the two host nations' consent, as Israel was and is not a party to the agreement. The existence of several competing militias; the lack of Lebanese government control of the area even before the invasion; and Israeli distrust of the U.N. made the UNIFIL mission unachievable.

The U.N. has not learned the bitter lessons of Lebanon, for the same problems plague its forces in the Balkans and Somalia. Due to international bungling, the U.N. has now been dragged into the quagmire of the Balkans. There are several indicators of a drift from peacekeeping to peace-restoring rather than peace-maintaining. These signs include the expansion of the U.N. protection force's mandate towards armed escort, changes in the normal rules of engagement; unenforcement; and significant cost. One can question whether the U.N. has responsibility for the settlement of civil disorders. Its gross ineffectiveness in both the Balkans and Somalia has seriously jeopardized its credibility as a peace-keeper.

Peacekeeping: the Future

Still, there may be some benefit from these activities. In both the former Yugoslavia and Somalia our troops provide security for relief agencies and their cargo to ensure that humanitarian aid is distributed. These operations reflect a new willingness on the part of the international community to involve itself, at least for humanitarian reasons, in matters internal to sovereign states. This is one way the "New World Order" has changed since the end of the cold war.

Peacekeeping, despite its ups and downs, has developed into a respected institution and may now need to change further. An example is the tragedy of Somalia. Civil disorders will continue to create famine and masses of refugees in the horn of Africa; the situations in Zaire, Angola, Nigeria, Mozambique, Kenya and possibly South Africa will probably deteriorate, necessitating the deployment of peacekeeping and humanitarian aid. Aid can inflame the situation, so the international aid agencies and peace-keepers need a closer working relationship. Now is the time.

With the end of the cold war and the power politics by the superpowers in the General Assembly and Security Council, the United Nations was given a second chance. Its role as a arbitrator in world affairs has grown dramatically. The U.N.'s powerlessness during the cold war had enormously costly results. Since the end of the World War II over 23 million people have died as a result of the 100 wars (a "War" having the criterion of at least 1000 people killed). Most such deaths are in the Third World, particularly Africa. In my opinion, Africa is where the United Nations and Canada's thrust must be-not in a European problem such as the Balkans.

Can the United Nations meet the challenge of conflict resolution? Since the U.N. resumed its peacekeeping activities in 1987, many nations have renewed their commitment to it and have contributed troops and equipment to peacekeeping missions. The number of countries turning to the U.N. for the resolution of disputes has also risen dramatically. At the same time, only a quarter of the participating nations, including Canada, have fully paid their dues. If the U.N. is to meet the growing demands, peacekeeping must expand. Originally it involved sending a U.N. military force and/or military observers following a ceasefire, while the "host" parties negotiated a more enduring peace. Military peace-keepers do not solve political problems but only provide stability in order for the diplomats and politicians to negotiate and move from the ceasefire to the truce to the peace treaty.

Aid As A Peace-Maker

In 1907 there were approximately 200 international non-governmental agencies (NGOs); now there are about 18,000. Previously, aid organizations reacted to natural disasters. However, with the removal of the East/West influences in Third World countries, agencies are responding to the needs of people in areas of conflict. Most agencies (e.g. UNHCR, ICRC, Care Canada and Care International) realize that they must work with the peace-keepers to provide relief and aid in the peacemaking process. Unfortunately, aid can also aggravate the conflict (e.g. Somalia and Bosnia). Still, the reverse could also be true: Why not use foreign aid to motivate a ceasefire or truce? The reality, of course, is that food insecurity often masks underlying ethnic or political problems. In the horn of Africa, the objective of the endless bush wars is usually control of food. When supplies are adequate, fighting abates. When supplies are scarce, fighting intensifies. Maybe a creative approach is in order: exchange food and supplies for armaments.


Canadians continue to make peacekeeping a central commitment. Canada's status as a middle power with no external territorial ambitions, and its unwavering support of peacekeeping have earned us unrivaled credibility on the world stage. However the drift of peacekeeping from that being the honest broker to being one of the belligerents has severely damaged our prestige. Canada needs to reconsider the U.N.'s drift towards peace-enforcement, a type of peacekeeping which uses force, not persuasion. Peacekeeping is not cheap in money or lives. Canada must continue to participate-but not necessarily by allowing self-serving politicians and nations to shed the blood of Canadian soldiers.

Colonel Ethell worked with the peacekeeping forces for many years.

Peace Magazine Sep-Oct 1993

Peace Magazine Sep-Oct 1993, page 19. Some rights reserved.

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